How Joseph and Mary were true spouses despite being also perpetual virgins

March 5, 2022 • 3 min

From The Life and Glories of St. Joseph, in file "The Life and Glories of St. Joseph", page 145
By Edward Healy Thompson, M.A.

Then, as respects the profit to us. Mary was to be proposed for all future ages as the example, the mirror, and the model of all women, high and low, married and virgins, and especially of those who should consecrate themselves to God by a perpetual vow. And what is said of Mary as respects women must, in due proportion, be said of Joseph in regard to men. Joseph, so perfect before God, was to serve as an example and a model to all men, virgins as well as married, and particularly to those who have vowed perpetual chastity. He, too, was to be the first among men to make this generous and solemn vow, in order to become, as the Church styles him, the guardian of virgins and their great patriarch; and, in fact, the sublime example of Mary and Joseph drew numbers of saints of the New Law to follow in their steps, and oblige themselves, by vow, to lead a virginal life even in the state of holy matrimony, who have been held forth in ecclesiastical history as the admiration and marvel of the world.

Such, then, were the chief reasons why these two most holy spouses, although confirmed in grace, took an absolute and formal vow of perpetual virginity after the celebration of their marriage; and this is the common opinion of Fathers and Doctors. But, if they had made a vow before their marriage, and, not content with this, solemnly renewed it subsequently from their love of holy virginity, how, it may be asked, can their marriage be reckoned true and valid? Is not the vow of virginity directly opposed to the chief end of holy matrimony? Before applying ourselves to the solution of this difficulty, we may observe that St. Thomas teaches that all that is essential to matrimony is that, between those who legitimately contract it, there should be mutual consent and mutual engagement of fidelity. It is certain, as St. Augustine says, that those are still true spouses who, after being lawfully united in marriage, resolve in their hearts to remain ever virgins. And the same Augustine denounces the heretic Julian, of the sect of the Pelagians, who openly denied the truth of the marriage between Mary and Joseph. This being premised, we may further observe that it is clear from more than one passage in the Holy Gospel that Mary was truly Joseph’s wife, and Joseph truly Mary’s husband, for she is expressly called the wife of Joseph, as Joseph is called the husband of Mary. If Joseph be sometimes styled by the Fathers simply the guardian, not the husband, of Mary, this way of speaking was not intended to exclude the reality of the matrimonial bond which united them, but only to rebut any possible surmise which might arise against their virginal purity.

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